Friday News Roundup: September 6, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read about elderly people who are incarcerated, how it can be difficult to find employment or housing after being released from prison, what Ben & Jerry’s is doing for justice reform, new defense spending in Austin, Texas, and more. 

Criminal Justice News

The Graying of America’s Prisons: ‘When is Enough Enough?’

Read about 71-year-old Wayne Pray, who has been incarcerated for 30 years on nonviolent drug offenses due to mandatory life sentences during the war on drugs. He is one of about 20,000 older people in federal prison, with people in prison over 55 among the fastest growing population. According to USA Today, older people burden prisons and taxpayers, but pose the lowest threat to society. (Rivers, USA Today, September 5, 2019)

A New Ben & Jerry’s Flavor is Meant to Highlight Criminal Justice Reform

Ben & Jerry’s has partnered with the Advancement Project National Office, a multi-racial civil rights organization that works with local grassroots organizers on racial justice issues, to bring awareness to systemic racism and criminal justice reform. The proceeds from the new flavor, Justice ReMix’d, will go to the Advancement Project and was created as part of an effort to promote social change. “Our approach to creating social change is to raise up the work non-profits are doing on the ground,” said Co-Founder Ben Cohen. “We bring every resource we have to support them—our business voice, our connection with fans, our Scoop Shop community and of course, ice cream.” (Johnson, CNN, September 4, 2019)

Next Arena for Criminal Justice Reform: A Roof Over Their Heads

Once released, some formerly incarcerated people struggle to find a place to live. Public housing authorities and private landlords refuse to rent to them, labeling them public safety risks, sending them to the streets, to homelessness — and often back to prison, for offenses like sleeping in public spaces and panhandling. Read this piece to understand the state of current reform in New Orleans, and hear stories like that of Thad Tatum, who’s housing voucher was revoked because of his conviction. (Fadulu, The New York Times, September 3, 2019)

After Prison, More Punishment

Across the country, more than 10,000 regulations restrict people with criminal records from obtaining occupational licenses, according to a database developed by the American Bar Association. The restrictions make it challenging for formerly incarcerated persons to enter or move up in fast-growing industries such as health care, human services, and some mechanical trades, according to civil liberties lawyers and economists. These include the very jobs they’ve trained for in prison or in certain reentry programs. Without jobs, many of those released could end up back in jail, experts say. (Jan, The Washington Post, September 3, 2019)

Tennessee on Right Track for Community Supervision. Let’s Continue to Ensure Its Success

This opinion piece discusses the success of Tennessee’s Public Safety Act of 2016 to reduce the percentage of state prison admissions due to a technical violation of probation or parole. On average “45 percent of state prison admissions nationwide are due to violations of probation or parole for new offenses or technical violations.Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) reports that the prison admissions for a technical violation are down cumulatively by 21 percent since FY 2014. The cost reduction associated with this decline totals $32 million, which has allowed TDOC to reinvest $5.6 million for additional supervision staff, including counselors, which has reduced caseloads. (Warren and Rizer, Tennessean, September 2, 2019)

He’s Served 24 Years For a Murder Prosecutors Say He Didn’t Commit, But He’s Been Denied a New Trial

Lamar Johnson, 45, is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in Missouri. But a report from St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner and the Conviction Integrity Unit outlined what her office called misconduct by police and prosecutors in the case, including perjury, false testimony, and the payment of more than $4,000 to the sole eyewitness. The witness later recanted, and two other men later signed sworn affidavits admitting to the killing. Johnson’s attorney, along with the Midwest Innocence Project, plans on appealing. (Sanchez, Cera, CNN, August 29, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

He Entered Prison as a ‘Whiskerless Kid’. Will Oregon Ever Let Him Out?

Read about the cases of Sterling Cunio and the White brothers, who were all given life sentences as juveniles. The Appeal says they are but a few individuals who would benefit from retroactively applying Oregon’s new Senate Bill 1008. The bill includes a number of reforms, including a requirement that after serving 15 years, young people receive hearings with the state’s Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision to determine if they can be released early. SB 1008 also bans juvenile life without parole and requires that a judiciary hearing is held before a minor is transferred to adult court. (Weill-Greenberg, The Appeal, September 3, 2019)

Number of Young People Charged in Philadelphia’s Adult Court Drops Sharply

The number of children charged as adults in Philadelphia has been cut in half under District Attorney Larry Krasner, according to a review of court records by The Appeal. In the two years before Krasner took office, an average of 127 children were charged as adults. In 2018, Krasner’s first year in office, that number fell to less than 50. Young people who are charged in adult court are more likely to be rearrested than those who went through a juvenile system; see this research from Pennsylvania that found that youth being charged in adult court doubled the odds they would be rearrested compared to those charged in juvenile court. (Vaughn, The Appeal, August 30, 2019)

Public Defense News

State Grant Approved for Public Defender Office

The Texas Indigent Defense Commission has approved a four-year grant of matching funds to Travis County to support the creation of a Public Defenders Office, and additional support for the existing Capital Area Private Defenders Service. Pending expected Commissioners Court approval next week, the grant would begin in April of next year. This would end Austin’s status as the largest city in the country without public defenders. (King, The Austin Chronicle, August 30, 2019)

Drug Treatment News

Trump Administration Announcing Nearly $2B in Opioid Grants

The Trump administration is awarding nearly $2 billion in grants to states and local governments to help fight the opioid crisis. The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration is awarding $932 million to every state and some US territories to help provide treatment and recovery services that meet local needs. Previously, The New York Times had reported concerns over no new funding, worried the money was going to dry up. (AP, Washington DC, September 4, 2019)